An Amish garden in August, bustling and gleeful

Laura Anne Lapp in her family's garden in Newburg, Pa., with sons Micah, 3, (foreground) and Thomas, 4, each with an armload of potatoes. Not only does she grow vegetables, but she also cooks and bakes, makes clothes, and tends to 18 egg-laying hens.
Laura Anne Lapp in her family's garden in Newburg, Pa., with sons Micah, 3, (foreground) and Thomas, 4, each with an armload of potatoes. Not only does she grow vegetables, but she also cooks and bakes, makes clothes, and tends to 18 egg-laying hens. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 24, 2013

The second corn crop is coming in and peaches are practically falling from the sky. There are tomatoes and cucumbers to pick, potatoes and carrots to dig, and for Laura Anne Lapp, it's canning time.

"August is the busy season," says Laura, 32, author of a new book called An Amish Garden, a month-by-month chronicle of a full year in her Cumberland County, Pa., garden.

Actually, every season is busy for this Old Order Amish wife and mother of three. She not only grows food and puts things up, she also cooks and bakes from scratch, makes clothes, and tends to 18 egg-laying hens and one noisy rooster.

"Amish women get married and have children. This is what we do," she says, explaining with surprising openness her take on traditional expectations in Amish households.

Before she married John Lapp in 2005, Laura says, "I had a very definite idea about how things were going to happen. I was not going to be just an Amish housewife with a husband telling me what to do.

"And my husband is not like that," she continues. "He helps in the garden. He does dishes. He's a wonderful dad."

Laura and John, who has his own construction company, live with their boys - Aiden, 7; Thomas, 4; and Micah, 3 - in a spacious house in tiny Newburg, 150 miles west of Philadelphia. John, 31, designed and built the house, which is lit with the help of solar panels during the day and gas lights at night. He also built a barn that houses his office and the family horse and buggy.

The land - 10 acres, bought from his father - was part of the original Lapp family farm, and John's parents and two of his three brothers still live close by. It's an arrangement few "English" wives likely would embrace, but Laura seems genuinely delighted.

She calls John's mother, known as Barbie Mom, "my dear mother-in-law."

John also put together the garden's 10 raised beds, and though Laura earnestly apologizes for the weeds and "mess," a visitor sees no weeds and the garden looks just as it does in her book - healthy and beautiful.

That, as all gardeners know, can be no accident.

The soil is rich with aged manure supplied by Gina, the buggy horse. Laura - who gardens in a long dress and apron, and bare feet, her hair tucked under one of John's work handkerchiefs - has framed the vegetable and strawberry beds with pink and orange zinnias and towering sunflowers.

The lawn, neatly mowed, makes a perfect racetrack for the boys, also barefoot and outfitted alike in bowl haircuts, simple shirts, pants, and suspenders.

Shy at first, they're now digging potatoes with gusto, even as Laura - first in English, then in a lilting mix of English, German, and Pennsylvania Dutch - exhorts them to stop. "We have enough potatoes now," she says over the din of the rooster.

The trio turn to carrots, and soon they're having an onion war, all very merry. When they start ripping the heads off Laura's prized zinnias - varieties recommended in Derek Fell's Grow This! A Garden Expert's Guide to Choosing the Best Vegetables, Flowers, and Seeds So You're Never Disappointed Again - she feigns exasperation.

"My boys," she says, grinning.

Spring and early summer are favorite seasons. "That's the first time you can go out to pick dinner or can or freeze," says Laura, who grew up 10 miles away and worked for several summers at a greenhouse and nursery. (She also gets ideas from Organic Gardening magazine and the other women in her orbit.)

August has a frenzied charm. But even this seems more love's labor than stress point. Stress?

There was some during the recent recession; John's business was slow. But things have picked up nicely.

"I would say my life is not stressful," says Laura, who married relatively late for an Amish woman. She was two weeks shy of 25, finishing up eight years as the lone teacher in the Amish schoolhouse two miles away, a one-room affair with about 25 children in grades 1 through 8.

Laura still substitutes - Aiden's fine with that - and she has never lost her love of reading, including some decidedly non-Amish classics like Anna Karenina.

"I loved teaching. I loved being independent," she says.

Now, with a husband and children at the center of her universe, Laura does not chafe - as she once thought she might - at the prescribed role of Amish homemaker.

"I guess I just found my happiness doing that," she says.

Laura recently put up 32 quarts of pickles, and her cellar shelves hold dozens more - banana peppers, peaches, applesauce, tomato soup and grape concentrates, pizza sauce, chicken, and sausages.

"I like to have 50 to 75 quarts of applesauce for the winter," she says, which sounds like a lot till you learn that John and the boys eat applesauce with everything. They even swirl it in soup and dip squares of homemade pizza in it.

Laura learned to can, garden, and sew from her mother, Linda Byler, an Amish author with Good Books publishers in Intercourse. She has sold more than 400,000 appropriately chaste Amish romance novels, known in the trade as "bonnet-rippers."

An Amish Garden, also from Good Books, has sold several thousand copies since its April debut.

Laura compiled a cookbook of family recipes in 2011 to accompany a trilogy her mother wrote, but had never authored an original book before. For her first, she kept garden notes for a year, then wrote the month-by-month chapters in longhand on pieces of paper, often at 4 or 5 a.m., before her husband and children awoke.

"That is me time. It's very quiet," she says.

Laura has no wish to offend her Amish community, but she knows some disapprove of the book and her decision to give Lancaster photographer Jeremy Hess generous access to her family. "They say, 'You had a man in your kitchen when you were canning?' " recalls Laura, who admits to some early misgivings about the project.

"I'm a very private person, but I talked it over with my husband and we both were thinking [the book] wouldn't amount to much," she says modestly.

Laura has done five book-signings in Lancaster County, her mother at her side. "It was interesting meeting people," she says.

There are no plans for a second book - not yet, anyway. Which is fine. Laura's days are full.

Once the garden goes to sleep, she'll fill the gaps in the cellar pantry and, as she does every winter, return to a favorite (pronounced favor- right) hobby - refinishing old trunks.

And one more thing: There's an Amish garden to plan for next year.


Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or vsmith@phillynews.com.

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